Palliative Medicine: Approaches to Pain and Symptom Distress in Cancer (Course Code: M-109)

Palliative Medicine: Approaches to Pain and Symptom Distress in Cancer (Course Code: M-109)


Elective Course Description

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing a serious illness. It aims to prevent and address suffering that is both physical and nonphysical in nature, and is appropriate at any stage of illness. It can be provided concurrently with curative treatment.

Palliative care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team, and focuses on patient centered care, helping to promote clear communication between patients and their professional health team, as well as  provide an extra layer of support for patients and their families.

In this hospital based, two‐week elective, the student will learn how to assess the palliative needs in cancer patients with a focus on physical, psychosocial, and spiritual distress. He or she will work with the inpatient interdisciplinary team comprised of physicians, nurse practitioners, a chaplain, social worker and clinical pharmacist to manage pain and other common symptoms encountered in the cancer patient population.

Students will be directly supervised by Supportive Care faculty, fellows and the IDT. They will be expected to attend and participate in daily patient rounds, family meetings, perform inpatient consults at Memorial Hospital, and attend educational conferences and lectures. Evaluation will be based on overall clinical performance, as well as an oral presentation to be delivered during patient rounds at the conclusion of their elective. 

This elective is not open to international students.

Learning Objectives

  1. Become familiar with and apply the principles of pain management, including opioid use, conversions, titrations, as well as non-opioid adjuvants.
  2. Understand the approach to frequently encountered non-pain symptoms in the cancer patient population, such as dyspnea, nausea/vomiting, constipation, anxiety, delirium, and fatigue.
  3. Learn how to manage symptoms in the actively dying patient at the end of life.
  4. Learn and practice key communication skills necessary in the initial assessment of patients with palliative needs, as well as in addressing advance directive planning, goals of care discussions and hospice planning.
  5. Identify psychosocial factors that influence care, including existential and spiritual distress, with the input and assistance of the interprofessional team.
  6. Appreciate the multidisciplinary nature of patient care, foster respect for nonphysician colleagues, and learn how to effectively work as a member of an IDT.

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